Designing Your Own Plays

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

This is a hobby of mine. I've never seen a book on it, but I don't believe you need one. Why spend your time and money searching for the answer to your team's need for a play in a book someone else wrote? So many coaches ask for help with questions like, how do I break a 1-3-1 press? Or, what offense do I run against a 2-1-2 zone? Well, what if you can't find the answer in someone else's playbook? What are you going to do?

The trick is to think it through. Draw the opposition's defense on paper and study it. I like to experiment with pencil and paper, or use coins and push them around to explore possibilities. Then don't be shy. Draw up your own fine play. Then you can call it anything you want. (See the Alaska Play on this site.)

What helps is to have a few rules.

  1. Determine your point of origin
  2. Pick a specific objective (lay-up on an OB play, for example)
  3. Don't engineer risky elements, ie cross court passes or have one player possess the ball for several seconds.
  4. Every element you add should support the objective (or provide intentional misdirection). Trim any needless action.
  5. Elements should promote sound principles, like players moving towards passes, picking away for people so that they move towards the ball.
  6. If you are designing a continuous pattern, keep it simple. The play should return to the basic set frequently so the players have a chance to reset. They also learn the play faster if they remain in a recognizable pattern.
  7. Avoid long series of actions to create a shot opportunity. If you have 4 passes, 3 screens, everybody ends up in a different place, and the first shot you get is deep in the corner, you have a confusing play with low benefit result.
  8. Describe your play to somebody. Talking it through clarifies it in your own mind. Even someone who knows little basketball may point out a logic error. An experienced listener can test your play with hypothetical conditions.
  9. Remember the purpose of plays is to create shots (or kill time), not to run patterns. Players should be able to react to defensive opportunities.
  10. Test it with your team. Listen to their comments and suggestions. Be flexible.
  11. Trim off what doesn't work or isn't needed. In many plays, 2 or 3 players are enough. The others should get out of the way or create diversions.

Hope that is of some help! Have fun with it. Maybe someday you will see your play on TV.